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Travel Log: Vietnam, Part III – “HCMC: Dong Khoi Street” (15 & 16 October 2009)

December 2, 2009

Loc still had to work after he picked me up from the airport so he dropped me off on a side street, Pasteur, near downtown. I was there sans map or any hint of direction. I looked for people that seemed to be tourists (you know the type, camera around their neck with a fanny pack on their hips) and followed their lead. Sounds a bit strange maybe but this logic worked and their foot prints lead me right where I wanted to be – Dong Khoi Street (or Rue Catinat, which was what is was called during the French occupation).

General Post Office

Dong Khoi Street consists of the Municipal Theater, Rex Hotel, City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, Continental Hotel and the General Post Office. If you have read Graham Greene’s book, “The Quiet America,” you may be familiar with these architectural destinations. The buildings emote the romance of French-colonial Saigon that are prevalent in his book. You can imagine reporters meeting officers at the Continental Hotel for drinks to catch up on gossip about the war or US officers giving their “Five O’clock Follies” at the Rex Hotel. If you have not read the book, it’s a good quick read and will get you ready for your upcoming trip to Vietnam, should you be planning one. You can always pick one up when you’re in Hanoi as there will be plenty of people trying to sell it to you around Hoan Kiem Lake.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Municipal Theater

Continental Hotel

Continental Hotel

Dong Khoi Street looks out of place in modern HCMC, but it does give you a brief glimpse of HCMC’s history that feels like it is being overwritten by it’s new growth. However like a stubborn weed these few blocks hold on strong and remain almost unchanged. Dong Khoi is a breath of fresh air from the chaos of HCMC, thus I was naturally drawn there when I wanted to relax and enjoy a Vietnamese coffee.

Enjoying a Vietnamese coffee while I plan my day.

I spent a lot of time walking around HCMC the two days I was there. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any kind of day excursion outside the city to the Cu Chi tunnels. Reservations were hard to obtain on short notice (I find this to be one of the downsides to traveling without any plan other than to get lost.  Maybe Darren’s take on Venice really does only apply to that city?). The Cu Chi tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as an underground base and a method for launching attacks against the Americans.  The tunnels served as living quarters, weapons cache, hospitals and supply routes for  the guerrilla fighters.  Life in the tunnels wasn’t easy as they are extremely small; food, water and air were scarce, and the tunnels were home to numerous poisonous insects.  As a visitor today, you don’t have to worry about the insects but the tunnels can be challenging for larger people and while talking with fellow travelers I heard mixed reviews regarding their take and experience viewing and exploring the tunnels. From what I could gather, it would be something you don’t want to miss if you are really interested in the history of the Vietnam War. It also seems to be an escape from the noise of the city, or a place that you might like if you want to shoot some assault rifles!

Check back for Part IV coming soon…

One Comment leave one →
  1. A fan permalink
    December 2, 2009 4:27 PM

    Since I haven’t taken a history class in while, I enjoyed the refresher lesson. HCMC has beautiful and diverse architecture. I may never get to travel to Vietnam, but I am visiting it vicariously through your website.

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